Brawn's rivals might have to get used to this sight this season
By Mark Hughes
BBC Formula 1 commentary producer
The Brawn GP cars that took Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello to a one-two finish in Melbourne could probably have put 30 seconds on the rest of the field had they been fully stretched.
The following two points alone suggest the car had plenty of performance in hand during Sunday's Australian Grand Prix.
Firstly, Jenson Button's margin over the chasing Red Bull of Sebastian Vettel was 3.9 seconds after only one lap of the Albert Park street circuit. Yet it hovered between only four and five seconds for most of the following 57 laps.
Secondly, the sister car of Rubens Barrichello received a severely damaged diffuser after being hit at the first corner by Heikki Kovalainen's McLaren - yet still had enough performance to carry the Brazilian to runner-up spot.
The Brawn BGP001 appears to be a staggeringly good car: quick on slow corners and fast, compliant, consistent, driveable and responsive to set-up changes.
It has been 15 months in gestation and has had more hours of computing and wind-tunnel time spent on its design than any of its rivals, which is reflected in its intricate aerodynamic detailing.
There is a school of thought in the paddock that suggests Brawn's superiority will not last all season - don't believe any of it
It also shares with Toyota and Williams a controversial diffuser concept that rival teams believe contravenes the technical regulations.
The Australian stewards disagreed, said the diffuser was in full compliance - a decision that Ferrari, Red Bull and Renault have taken to Formula 1's Court of Appeal. It will be heard between the Malaysian and Chinese Grands Prix on 14 April.
There is a school of thought in the paddock that suggests Brawn's superiority will not last all season, that it is now a small independent team and that it will therefore not be able to match the car development pace of bigger, better-funded teams such as McLaren, Ferrari and Toyota.
Furthermore, if the appeal is upheld and Brawn have to fit a more conventional diffuser to the back of its car, it will presumably lose a whole chunk of performance.
Well, don't believe any of it.
Even if the bigger teams can develop their cars more quickly, it will almost certainly not be enough.
The best evidence suggests that the Brawn has about 0.7 seconds advantage over the field at present. In Melbourne qualifying it was actually even more than that.
In the top-10 run-off, Button's pole time was 0.6 seconds faster than Vettel's - the quickest non-Brawn. Yet Button was carrying 7.5kg more fuel - almost 0.3 seconds worth, suggesting that the car is potentially 0.9 seconds clear.
Team boss Ross Brawn and Jenson Button were ecstatic after a debut win
However, that was an advantage probably flattered by how Button had been able to save two new sets of the faster super-soft tyres, one for each run, whereas those in other teams had only one set left, having been forced to use their other sets to get through qualifying sessions one and two.
The figure of 0.7 seconds would tally with the picture that emerged from pre-season testing at Barcelona.
It is a huge margin to find in development and each incremental gain in performance tends to become more difficult as diminishing returns set in.
While it is not inconceivable that the bigger teams can succeed in making this gain, it's very difficult to conceive that they could leapfrog and pull away from a car with such a head-start.
Even if the Brawn development curve turns out to be gentler than others, it looks set to be competing at or near the front for the remainder of the season.
As such, and given the head-start of the one-two result in Australia, it is already pretty much a given that Button and Barrichello - two drivers who only a few weeks ago were staring potentially at the end of their careers - are in contention for the world championship.
If the diffuser decision should go against the team, then some of that superiority might dissolve. But the diffuser alone cannot explain the Brawn's speed.
For one thing, it does not explain the car's superiority over the Toyota and Williams, both of which have a similar diffuser.
For another, the Brawn appears particularly strong on slow corners, where the benefits of a diffuser - which creates downforce by accelerating the airflow under the car and effectively sucking it to the road - would not be as great as on faster corners.
Besides, one very experienced F1 aerodynamicist told me the following: "In aerodynamic terms, seven tenths of a second implies about 70kg of extra downforce for a given drag.
"The size of the diffuser as defined in the regulations means it creates only about 10% of the car's total downforce - about 120kg.
"If their diffuser is worth seven tenths of a second it implies that they are getting 60% more downforce from their diffuser than anyone else. That is ludicrous.
"I'd say if you could get a diffuser to be giving you an extra 20kg over everyone else - about 0.2 seconds-worth - you would be doing incredibly well."
So, whichever way the court of appeal goes, do not expect the Brawn to be anything other than a front-runner this year.
Mark Hughes has been an F1 journalist for 10 years and is an award-winning author of several books